First of all, I’d like to apologize for taking a while to write. Life was happening pretty fast, which is why it took me about a month after our Calaguas Island trip to tell you about it. Fair warning, it’s going to be a pretty long read, longer than my usual entries, so make sure you’re seated comfortably. So here’s what happened.
My friend was the one who suggested that we try out Calaguas Island in Camarines Norte. He said he’d been hearing about it so much, it must be great. I personally hadn’t heard of the place until he mentioned it, but the photos he shared looked great so we though, why not? Calaguas is basically a virgin island, and from what we’ve read, it’s so undeveloped, it feels like you own the island when you’re there. The main method of spending the night is by camping, which worried me a little, but what the hell? Labor Day fell on a Friday this year so we though, “hey, perfect”, as we planned a three-day getaway. (The second night was spent at a hotel, which I’ll tell you about later on.)
To save money, we chose to take a bus, and not booking a ride days ahead of time was a mistake. We waited hours to get onto a bus, and by then, the only buses available were the un-air-conditioned ones. But we were sick of waiting at the Cubao station so with the knowledge that the air conditioned buses weren’t due for a few more hours, we boarded the ordinary bus and headed off.
Hours upon hours of incredible heat, numerous stops, a variety of smells, and crying babies later (which is why I have a new found respect for people who take ordinary buses during long trips on a regular basis), we reached Daet, Bicol. There, tricycles were waiting to take us to Vinzons Fish Port, where Calaguas-bound boats were moored. There were five of us, so since they only allow four to a trike, we split into two groups (each ride cost Php300). The ride’s pretty long, but the landscape, I have to say, was breathtaking, all the mountains and green stuff sprouting out of the ground. You don’t get many of those in the city, so take it all in.
After about an hour, we reach the port where we hired a private boat to take us to the island. The view during the two-hour ride was pretty spectacular: with a stretch of blue water with a smattering of faraway islands and a few piles of rocks nearby, the ride (while a bit shaky) was rather soothing.
The minute we spotted Mahabang Buhanging Beach, we immediately realized our mistake of taking the trip that weekend. People. People everywhere. From one end of the beach to the other were people of all shapes and sizes, getting tanned, swimming, taking selfies, crawling in and out of their tents. Uh-oh, we thought as our feet touched the sand.
Not that it was all bad; the place was rather picturesque. Clear, blue water, white sand as far as the eye can see, lush hills surrounding everything, it wasn’t hard to see why it’s so popular to sun worshipers. Swimming in the water was a welcome respite from the heat, but the corals below were hell on the feet (hey, that rhymes!). There is a portion of the beach where there were no rocks, but it was also the part where most of the people were, so we steered clear of that area.
My biggest fear going into the trip was that it would turn out to be the wipe-your-ass-with-a-leaf variety (I know I’m sounding like a wuss, but fuck you; I like indoor plumbing). Thank goodness it wasn’t totally like that. There is a bath area where manual water pumps and pails are lined up, as well as what passes for toilets hidden behind dingy doors. Still, way better than nothing.
Before we left Manila, we decided we’d bring food to the island just in case there weren’t any stores on the island, and we were glad we did. There is a store, but everything costs an arm and a leg. Think Php 80 for a 1.5 liter bottle of Coke. Buying a few items (like our morning coffee for Php 25 a sachet) was unavoidable, but we mainly ate the food we brought with us.
In the morning, after the aforementioned cup of coffee, we decided to take a hike, which requires a Php 25 entrance fee (It was freaking nature! Why was there an entrance fee to see nature?). From up high, we could see the entire beach, the waters, and the surrounding islands. Nice.
With the unbearable heat, we’ve pretty much had enough at around 12 PM, which was too bad. We asked to be brought back to the main land at 3PM thinking we’d still be frolicking in the water by then, and the boat we rented had an island hopping trip before then, so we couldn’t ask to leave earlier. When 3PM rolled around and the boat was nowhere in sight, we contracted another boat to take us back instead. (We only the paid the first boat half, so we just gave this one the rest.)
So, while it looks like I’m complaining a lot, the trip wasn’t all bad. But all the same, I’ve got a couple of things that might help you should you decide to take on Calaguas:
1. It appears in our excitement to travel, we’d forgotten one crucial rule of going on vacation: don’t schedule a getaway during a long holiday weekend, especially if you’re going somewhere that’s considered to be the current “it” destination, because everyone else is thinking the same thing.
2. If you choose to wave off this warning and plow through anyway, take care of your transportation ASAP. You can book a flight to Daet, but if you’re on a tight budget (or you’re just a glutton for punishment), you can make early reservations for a 10-hour bus trip onboard Superlines, Philtranco, DLTB or any other line headed thataway.
3. If you have a tent, by all means bring it so you won’t have to rent one.
4. Charge your phones and bring fully charged power banks. Granted, it’s damn near impossible to get a signal, but you never know.
5. In case I need to say it, bring food to avoid the highway robbery that is the island sari-sari store.
6. There are no ATMs on the island (surprise), so bring just enough cash for things like emergency store runs, boat rides, the tent corkage (if you plan on bringing your own; about Php 100, if I remember correctly) or tent rental (not sure on this one), the hiking fee, and something called the barangay fee or tax or something. (You know, for a virgin island, it sure makes you pay a lot so you can use it. Just saying.)
7. Know how to haggle. The boater originally wanted Php 4,500 to and from the island, but we talked him down to Php 3,500. Hopefully you’re better at negotiating than we were.
8. Depending on the temper of the sea, the waves are going to be hitting the boat pretty hard, so make sure you’re wearing clothes you don’t mind getting wet. And if you’re wearing shoes, change into flip-flops before boarding the boat.
9. Aqua shoes are your best friend. Parts of the beach are pretty rocky.
10. Take a lamp and/or flashlights for those dark, electricity-less nights.
11. If you’re going hiking, do it really early in the morning. We climbed at around 7AM, and it was pretty hot up there and so many people were hanging out up there taking selfies.
12. Try to get back to the mainland early. In talking to some of the locals, most UV Express vans that can take you to the bus stations stop operating at around 6PM.
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